Celtics Play Well, Fall Apart Late In Game 1

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Knicks 85, Celtics 78

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The Celtics did everything they had to do to be in a position to steal Game 1. They contained the league’s leading scorer, got Jeff Green going on offense, and kept it close before collapsing in the final minutes. So the question is, should they be encouraged by their performance over the first 42 minutes? Or discouraged about their failures in the last 6?

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are certain things that the Celtics can live with when it comes to their Game 1 loss at the Knicks. They can live with the fact that they held Carmelo Anthony-an unstoppable force who led the league in scoring after averaging 36 points per game in the month of April- to 36 points on 29 field goal attempts. They will live with the Knicks taking an inadvisable amount of three pointers in a playoff game, and missing their last ten attempts from downtown. They can take solace in the aggressive play of Jeff Green and Paul Pierce, who took advantage of mismatches and went a combined 15-for-15 from the free throw line.

http://youtu.be/-xd0aviafQ8

The C’s hung around after receiving a few haymakers in the early going, however they had a number of miscues late in the game that will be hard to live with. They can’t be happy with their eight fourth quarter turnovers, or the fact that they managed to score a total of eight points in the final frame. It’s tough to accept the fact that Brandon Bass only took (and made) two shots in over 32 minutes of play, and it’s quite troubling that the reserves only contributed four points, while the Knicks bench dropped 33.

But the Celtics expect their offense to sputter at points, and that’s when their defense is supposed to give them a chance to win big games. That’s why it’s tough for them to live with Kenyon Martin creating a number of second chance opportunities for a Knicks team that was content to shoot contested jump shots on Saturday afternoon.

Martin, the same “washed-up” big man that Danny Ainge claims he never pursued after Jared Sullinger went down for the season. A tough-minded player who had logged over 3,000 minutes in 100 postseason games before this season was passed up in favor of two raw, unproven centers that were only mildly successful in the Chinese League. A veteran who was picked up in February by one of the Celtics biggest rivals, and is now anchoring the Knicks defense in a first-round playoff series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_30T22uc8Jg

That man, whom the C’s should absolutely regret not signing, was also part of the most inexcusable play of the night from Boston’s perspective. Down five points with under a minute to play, Garnett jumped out to double Anthony on a high pick-and-roll, but nobody picked up the roll man, who adroitly dove to the basket and was rewarded with a dunk off Melo’s sole assist of the game.

The fact that Martin hammered the nail into the Celts coffin in Game 1 with a thunderous slam adds some vinegar to the wound, yet there are still bigger issues to address. Namely, their stagnant offensive flow down the stretch.

It’s happened a number of times this season. The Celtics compete, and even dominate the best teams in the East (Miami and New York) during stretches with smart ball movement and timely shooting. They succeed where their opponents fail because they play as a unit, while the other team depends on isolation sets. Then at some point late in the game, Boston abandons their spread attack and decides to play a little hero ball.

For most of the game, Green allowed the game to come to him, as demonstrated by his 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field in the first half. Yet, when the Celts decided to isolate Green and Pierce during half of their possessions in the fourth, the results were decidedly underwhelming. The C’s were stuck with nowhere to go on numerous occasions, and the game slipped away from them as the ball was stripped or deflected into the Knicks waiting hands.

After this type of loss, players on the losing team will typically respond along the lines of, “It’s just one game, it’s on their home floor and they did what they’re supposed to do.” While this type of attitude can often be construed as an excuse, it does make sense in certain instances. It seems as though the Celtics are more likely to come away from this game with confidence that they can correct their mistakes, and give themselves a chance to steal Game 2.

We’ve seen this pattern before as well. Don’t forget that the C’s were written off after getting dismantled by the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, only to come back and nearly (only nearly due to some officiating blunders) defeat the eventual champs in overtime the next game. It’s all about adjustments in the postseason, and Doc Rivers is one of the best in the business when it comes to highlighting the team’s key mistakes and getting his players ready for the next bout. Even though Game 1 likely left a sour taste in the Celtics mouths, they’ll be able to live with it for now.

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Nate Weitzer

I've always loved the Celtics. Growing up with only a whiff of the glory days of Bird, Parish, and McHale, I was wistful yet invested in the awful teams of the 17-year period (1991-2007) where the Celtics never really competed. When they won the finals in '08 I was ecstatic, my favorite memory was slapping a bar table so hard I spilled a pitcher after Pierce's four-point-play in Game 1.